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Best 6 Process Improvement Methodologies in 2024

Updated on Mar 1
4 min read
Written by
Hazal Şimşek
Hazal Şimşek
Hazal Şimşek
Hazal is an industry analyst at AIMultiple, focusing on process mining and IT automation.

She has experience as a quantitative market researcher and data analyst in the fintech industry.

Hazal received her master's degree from the University of Carlos III of Madrid and her bachelor's degree from Bilkent University.
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Process improvement techniques identify the issues in a process and provide solutions to improve them. Though these techniques might share similar methodologies when it comes to problem solving, they often have different end-goals. However, companies can combine these methodologies in the same operation, deciding on the best one suited to your business depends on your process scope and goals. While all these techniques can help your company achieve your goals, deciding which one to use ultimately depends on your process scope.

In this research, we explain the main process improvement approaches and discuss their popularity trends.

Lean

Lean methodology reduces wasted resources that do not add any customer value while improving processes. The main goal of this approach is to create more customer value with fewer resources. Businesses need to identify customer value first and then eliminate waste until they reach “perfect” processes to implement this strategy. For more details about this approach, you can read our in-depth guide.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a statistical method that reduces variations for process improvement. This approach aims to keep the acceptable lower-upper limits in the six-sigma level so that the probability of having errors in a process will be 3.4 per million opportunities. Successful businesses have used six Sigma like General Electric since the mid-1980s. Though it is less popular due to the popularity of new emerging approaches and companies’ focus on innovation, it is still a powerful method for process standardization today. To learn more, feel free to read our in-depth Six Sigma guide.

Lean Six Sigma

Businesses adopted the lean approach to remove waste in processes to use their resources efficiently. Then, Six Sigma was created to reduce process variation. Lean and Six sigma work together successfully in a dynamic business environment.

Lean Six Sigma combines the Lean approach and Six Sigma methodology for businesses. This technique aims to eliminate defects in the Lean and reduce deviations as in Six Sigma for process improvement. It allows establishing efficient systems with high quality and efficiency while it increases bottom-line earnings and helps to achieve company goals.

Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a process improvement approach that continuously detects and eliminates production errors by facilitating supply chain processes, improving customer experience, and ensuring that employees are trained well enough. Total in TQM means that all departments and production (like sales, marketing, finance) are accountable for improving processes. Management in TQM emphasizes that executives are obligated to actively manage quality through funding, training, staffing, and goal setting.

TQM was a popular approach between the late 1980s and early 1990s, while Lean and Six Sigma approaches are more popular today. TQM is similar to Six Sigma; TQM focuses on improving internal guidelines and process standards to reduce errors, while Six Sigma concentrates on reducing defects.

Kaizen

Kaizen is a philosophy meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement” in Japanese. It refers to continuously improving business processes by including all the CEO and assembly line workers. By applying this philosophy, businesses can achieve a more efficient work environment and create a team atmosphere. As a result, employee satisfaction improves as jobs become more fulfilling and less tiring.

Kaizen aims to make incremental changes regularly to improve processes efficiently within businesses. These changes do not mean that improvements are made slowly; but minor changes may significantly impact the future.

Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints states that there is always at least one constraint, and these constraints always prevent businesses from achieving more of their goals. Thus, this approach focuses on identifying and reducing the obstacles to improving processes.

The Theory of Constraints is another approach that aims to improve process efficiency. However, while the Theory of Constraints provides increased manufacturing capacity by detecting and eliminating bottlenecks, the Lean approach mostly reduces costs by targeting to eliminate defects in processes. In the below table, you can also see the main differences between these two approaches.

Source: Lean Production

Agile

Agile is a software development methodology suitable for processes that require collaboration. It is an iterative and incremental approach that requires employees in different teams to work collaboratively. The method includes consecutive incremental steps called “sprint” and “scrum” meetings that enable teammates to give feedback. These sprints ensure flexibility and aim for improving the process with small steps.

Similar agile approaches, including iterative changes and collaboration, are also becoming more popular in other areas such as manufacturing and construction. Rather than taking fundamental steps for updating processes, this methodology responds to the changes while taking incremental steps.

Source: Google Trends

Most process improvement techniques have had a decreasing trend since the 2000s. We observe that Six Sigma has been a much more popular approach than other process improvement techniques until the 2010s. Although it is a common method today, we see a significant fall in its trend.

On the other hand, agile development is an exception to the decreasing trend of different process improvement approaches. This methodology has been increasing in popularity since the 2000s, and its popularity will seemingly continue to rise for the next few years.

Today, agile methodology stands out as the most popular process improvement approach, and Six Sigma comes second, despite its decreasing trend. We observe that other methods have a slightly decreasing trend with similar popularity levels. We haven’t included the lean approach in this figure, as lean’s different popular meanings affect its trend-line.

Other technologies

Recent technological developments affect the loss in popularity since more businesses adopt technologies such as process mining and RPA to discover and improve their processes.

Here are the list of solutions and tools that can help business manage and improve their process:

Further Reading

If you want to discover more on process improvement case studies and how AI transforms process improvement, read our in-depth articles:

If you have questions about how process improvement methods can help your business, feel free to ask us: 

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Hazal Şimşek
Hazal is an industry analyst at AIMultiple, focusing on process mining and IT automation. She has experience as a quantitative market researcher and data analyst in the fintech industry. Hazal received her master's degree from the University of Carlos III of Madrid and her bachelor's degree from Bilkent University.

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